Editorial: Kudos to Terri Bryant: A Brave but Politically Dangerous Budget Vote

Editorial: Kudos to Terri Bryant:  A Brave but Politically Dangerous Budget Vote
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It’s a long way to 2018, and a lot can happen before then, but Terri Bryant probably earned reelecti
Chris Wissmann

It’s a long way to 2018, and a lot can happen before then, but Terri Bryant probably earned reelection last week when she crossed party lines to vote not only for a state budget but for the tax increase necessary to pay for it. (Technically, the votes came on three bills.) Then she voted with the majority of the legislature to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes.

For the last two years, the Republican governor refused to sign a budget until the General Assembly first passed his so-called Turnaround Agenda, which the legislature, controlled by Democrats, was never going to okay. Key components of the Turnaround Agenda include curtailing union rights (a Democratic nonstarter), steep pension cuts (which probably are unconstitutional), and term limits (which even Republicans, at least long-serving ones, undoubtedly oppose).

To raise money, the state and its various components, like SIU, can issue bonds, which often incur lower interest rates than bank loans. But because of the budget stalemate and mounting state debt that resulted, rating agencies were about to rate those bonds as junk, which would have caused their interest rates to jump, costing the state millions.

Lord knows how many smaller businesses and not-for-profits that did business with the state have quietly suffered, along with their employees, from the fiscal chokehold that resulted from two years without a state budget. Some have not been paid at all during that time. But the situation caused SIU, the largest employer in Bryant’s district, to publicly lay off employees as a result of lost state funding. Things at SIU would have looked considerably more dire had Illinois gone a third year without a budget, and the severe economic aftershocks would have cascaded throughout the region.

Illinois was even forced to halt the sale of multistate Mega Millions and Powerball lottery tickets because it couldn’t afford to contribute to the jackpots.

Voters can certainly lambast the Republican state representative from District 115 for taking too long to locate her courage— despite the damage the budget deadlock caused to her district, Bryant stayed in lockstep with Rauner during her entire first legislative term.

As she prepared to vote last week, however, Bryant laid out her conservative bona fides. Conservatives hate taxes, she said, and one of the bills on which she voted yes raised Illinois’s individual income-tax rates from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to seven percent.

“It will hurt small business to do this,” Bryant said. “But I also think it hurts small business when we ask them to do business with the state and then we don’t pay them.”

Moreover, the legislation increased the earned-income tax credit, so many low-income voters might not even notice the new tax rate.

Corporations and individuals who itemize their deductions, meanwhile, can deduct their state income taxes from their federal taxes— they might not notice the tax increase, either.

But they will recognize the results of a stable, functioning state government— whose schools open and operate, whose roads get paved, whose police show up when they’re called, whose parks are not shut down, and whose Medicaid bills get paid. Of course, it’s up to Bryant and her colleagues to connect those things that voters consistently tell pollsters they want with the tax increase required to pay for them.

Meanwhile, conservatives have pounced, something Bryant predicted. “I know, I’m probably going to get primaried on this,” she told the General Assembly.

She won’t be alone. On the tax cut, ten house Republicans slipped Rauner’s leash and voted to override the veto. (Of course, maybe Rauner let them go. There’s a conspiracy theory that Rauner wanted to have his cake and eat it too: Rauner, along with the handful of legislators who voted for the budget but against the tax increase, was trying to derive the benefits of a functional state government while railing against an unpopular tax increase needed to pay for government operations.)

Voters respond to, and thus elected officials face, any number of hot-button issues— abortion, gun control, environmental protection, et cetera. For the record, this writer disagrees with Bryant on nearly all of them. But right now, the signature issue of this legislative session and Bryant’s ongoing term of office was whether the state of Illinois would operate at all. And if Bryant’s vote is immediately unpopular, history should judge it kindly— though that verdict may not arrive in time for either the 2018 primary or election.

 

It better. If Republicans and conservatives treat her vote as an act of betrayal and try to end her political career, Bryant will need to rely on Democrats and liberals to prevent her act of courage from turning into political martyrdom.